In the final few minutes before ASO confirmed the official route for the 2024 Tour de France Femmes last week, I held my breath in anticipation like I have done at the very same moment for the past two years.
When it was announced that the Tour de France Femmes would run for the first time in 2022, I felt those nerves because I didn’t know what it would really mean. Like many women’s cycling fans, I’d felt burnt by the one-day La Course event by ASO which, although provided some great racing, was never a comparison to the three-week men’s Tour de France. Back then, I wasn’t sure that ASO would change that with the Tour de France Femmes – would it be any closer to a proper Grande Boucle for women?
When the first edition of the race eventually rolled round, it exceeded my expectations with a varied and exciting course that certainly provided the backdrop for a seismic shift in attitudes towards women’s cycling. In the second edition this year, when the women’s peloton got the chance to race up the iconic Col du Tourmalet, I was impressed once again by the levels of professionalism and fan engagement that the race generated. Credit should go to ASO for taking the task of a Tour de France Femmes seriously over the last two years – the women’s peloton has been given the same Tour treatment as the men (albeit for two weeks fewer.)
With this in mind, my concerns about the Tour de France Femmes route subside a little each year – I’ve grown to trust ASO to do a good job at creating a race that showcases the very best women’s cycling has to offer. When the 2024 route was announced, however, my excitement about the race was laced with a little bit of hesitancy.
There were plenty of good things: the race’s first foreign Grand Départ in Rotterdam proves that the Tour de France Femmes is gaining interest and popularity amongst big cities, as well as small towns, for example. The finish up Alpe d’Huez is going to be historic, and I’m glad that the women’s peloton will have the chance to write its own stories on such a mythical climb – ones that will be talked about for years to come. I like the Ardennes-style stage four which includes climbs from both Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège; this punchy day will add plenty of variety to the route.Image: ASO/Charly Lopez
Looking at stages two and three however, was when I began to scratch my head. Both stages take place on the same day in Rotterdam, the first a 67km pan-flat road stage and the second a 6.3km individual time trial in the evening. In some ways, I understand the organiser’s decision to structure the race like this; it provides great viewing for fans who are on the ground in-person, and shakes up the usual Tour format. They're also aiming to fit eight stages into seven days to align with the Paris Olympics (ASO don't want the TDFF to finish on a Sunday, but don't want to start it while the Olympics are still running.) On the other hand, I find it a little bit surprising they have included such a short road stage in the biggest race of the year on the Women's WorldTour calendar and I'd advocate for one proper road stage – or a long time trial – and seven stages overall, rather than the hasty split day the organisers have opted for (or the Tour de France Femmes could have run week later in the race calendar – it's hard to imagine that a day of the men's Tour would be sacrificed due to scheduling issues.)
Sixty-seven kilometres is the sort of distance that we see junior women racing, and I’m not sure that it belongs in a race like the Tour. We’ve seen ASO try it before – 2018 saw a poorly executed Formula 1 style grid start on stage 17 men’s Tour de France, it was just 65km and the organisers aimed to excitement to the race. In the end, it fell flat and nothing really happened, with the riders carrying out their usual slow build into the stage. It’s hard to imagine explosive, all-or-nothing attacks from the flag drop during stage two of the Tour de France Femmes given how many tough days there will still be to come at that point in the race. The fact that the short stage format didn't really live up to expectations in the men's Tour four years ago didn't matter as much, as they still had 20 other stages to race for, but the same can't be said for the women's race.
When it comes to the 6km time trial on stage three of the Tour de France Femmes, this doesn’t take the role of a prologue, like a similar stage did in the 2010 men’s Tour de France and it’s not long enough to impact the general classification. It's a stage that could end up feeling slightly hollow and pointless.
My opinions on the 2024 Tour de France Femmes route are certainly not clear-cut: I see plenty of steps forward, but in a race that is only seven days, I believe each stage is crucial and should be used wisely. I hope that I am proven wrong, and that a 67km stage will provide some punchy, explosive racing, and that the time trial will be nail-biting, but their placements in the race don’t quite align with this vision. However, while I have some concerns these two stages could end up being meaningless for the overall narrative of the race, they still offer riders the chance of a Tour de France Femmes stage win and perhaps that is enough in itself. We still have Alpe d’Huez to look forward to, after all.
Cover image: ASO/Thomas Maheux